Father Joe's Articles
Through thick and thin, 'almost momma' Rin and her two little sisters are always up for another round of 'phong pah' By Father Joe MaierPublished in the Bangkok Post: 18/10/2009. Spectrum section.
It's a love story that needs telling. Three of the most fabulous children on the planet and their giggles galore version of phong pah - something like "blind man's bluff", with a Thai whiff of "hide and seek" added for spice.
It's a glorious game. Phong pah means something like "thumbs up, I found you!" And you say the word "phong" loudly as you hold up your thumbs when you find the person who is hiding.
Except our Miss Phae can't quite manage the word "phong" so the other two cut her a bit of slack, letting her just say "dhaah". Plus, she isn't sure about "thumbs" so she gets to raise up her whole arm. Actually, Miss Phae is probably the best player. Yes, she's blind, but oh boy, she can really hear! That's her secret weapon.
And "pah" is what you say when you touch whoever is "it" - who is looking for you - but you find them first and touch them before they see you. That's when you say "pah!"
Now Miss Rin, way oldest of the three, considers herself most certainly the best phong pah player in all of Thailand, maybe even the planet. It's a matter of "face". Besides that, she's the "older sister" and almost their real momma.
But last week, what happened is this. She goofed up big time. These are fragile kids and when big sister Rin told them she wouldn't be around to play anymore, couldn't play anymore, because she planned to run away, it pretty much destroyed them. Miss Phae just held on to Miss Phon and wouldn't let her go. For hours. And Miss Phon, well she wouldn't let anyone change her "Huggies", and that soon became quite noticeable! And most scary of all, they wouldn't take their anti-virals. These kids know, oh yes, they know - to miss your am-pm anti-virals just a few times is fatal. Truly fatal.
Miss Rin is kind of complicated. In the middle of last week, one of the other girls in the house laughed when Miss Rin said something. Miss Rin is really sensitive. She knows all the words, but with her deformed palate, sometimes the sounds get mixed up.
When the other girl laughed, Miss Rin lost it. Tears, hysteria. She ran immediately to a house mom who she loves and trusts. The house mum had seen this all before, so she held Miss Rin tightly for a long time. Miss Rin gets the shakes, which in a heart-beat can quickly turn into shock - with the whites of her eyes rolling up - if the trusted house mum doesn't hold her and comfort her and calm her down.
So Friday, two days later, she decided. She made sure her two little sisters had eaten, but didn't tell them she was leaving. After dark, Miss Rin put on her "going outside the building shoes" - slip-ons because she never mastered shoe laces. Climbed down the drain pipe, over the gate.
Off to find Mr Dhoot - her "kinda" boyfriend. She said once that he used to hold her, make her feel good. Seems they were on the streets together a couple of years back. She hasn't seen him since. We don't know much. Don't know what he looks like; don't know if he even exists. But for sure, somebody sweet-talked her back then.
She made sure her two little sisters had eaten, but didn’t tell them she was leaving. After dark, Miss Rin put on her ‘going outside the building shoes’
Miss Rin remembers his name and that he's not old and they were gik. (Kind of hard to translate, but something like someone has a "partner" already and double-times them, and sweet-talks you and you believe them.) That's how she contracted the virus, or so we guess. She decided to go back and live under the bridge where she used to, where the limping dog was, the one she saw the car hit. But the last time she'd gone back she said "they" had moved the bridge because she couldn't find it. But maybe she could find it this time. Anyway, the dog didn't have a name, so she simply had called it "dog". Like her, she didn't have a name either, except Rin. But that's enough, isn't it? We asked her who gave her the name Rin but she goes glassy eyed, so we don't go there. Simply says her name is Rin. It was at that bridge (that they moved) where she had met gik, Mr Dhoot. She felt if she could find him, he would hold her and make her feel good again, and he would save her from girls laughing at the way she talked.
But really, all he had done for her before was to give her Aids. That doesn't make him one of our most favourite people.
A fast thinking house mum, the one who held her, saw Miss Rin climb over the gate. She is a wise woman, and she decided to let Miss Rin go her merry way, but quietly follow her. And so she did. Miss Rin wandered till almost dawn, stopping to forage a couple of garbage bins looking for food. Then at pre-dawn, she found a dark corner under a footbridge and laid down to sleep. A drunk guy came by, but not that drunk, and saw her asleep. Definitely not a cool situation. A slum dog had come and snarled, but not enough. The house mum had already phoned a neighborhood policeman and he came on his motorcycle. The drunk moved on. Miss Rin was awake and began to cry.
Miss Rin was awake and crying. Our house mum came up to her, asked if she wanted to come home and Rin said no. Oh boy!
Then the wise house mum told a small fib, said Miss Rin's two little sisters were crying all night long, but then told the big truth. That without big sister, almost momma, Rin, they couldn't play phong pah. That did it, she came home.
Dawn was just breaking and her little sisters waking up, so Miss Rin, almost momma, was home in time to help them bathe and brush their teeth. Also, on the way back, Miss Rin wanted the slum dog to come. Our wise house mum agreed, if the dog wanted to stay.
So we had a new dog, but even with regular food, he didn't stay. But Miss Rin came home. She and the girl who had laughed at her made up and now are the best of friends.
Miss Rin is up early to be almost momma each morning for the girls and to send Miss Phon off to special school. Miss Phon is 90% blind, but loves school and can sing songs and answer at role call when the teacher calls out her name. When anyone asks her favourite game, she says loudly "phong pah". Her friend Miss Phae also does quite well, moving around with her walker, and when Miss Phon is in school, she and Miss Rin listen to music on the radio.
Miss Rin in her free time finds pictures in movie magazines and says that the boys there almost look like her gik, Mr Dhoot. One more thing. As we said, Miss Phon can't see very well. They were playing their last late afternoon phong pah game before supper. They had a huge to-do as Miss Phon walked into a wall and had a big bump on her forehead and cried and cried that Miss Rin didn't tell her about the wall. And Miss Rin could only hold her, hug her until Miss Phon suddenly stopped crying - realising she was hungry. It's Miss Rin's chore to make sure the girls eat regularly, because they have to take the anti-virals according to when they eat.
Tomorrow is another day, with plenty of time for another game of phong pah.